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Dragon boat race set for June 16

U.S. and Canadian teams will face off June 16 in the fastest-growing team water sport worldwide: dragon boating.

The Hope Chest Buffalo Niagara Dragon Boat Festival will involve 20 teams of 21 paddlers squaring off at Gallagher Beach. The competition is a signature fundraiser for Hope Chest, which provides exercise and paddling programs for breast cancer survivors.

Hope Chest is working with internationally recognized dragon boat organizer Mike Kerkman, who produced races across the country.

"This sport is on fire," Kerkman said. "Last year's IDBF World Championship in Tampa attracted 2,000 competitors and tens of thousands of spectators."

Prince William and Princess Kate's 2011 North American visit included each of them participating in dragon boat races in California and Prince Edward Island, he said.

Organizers stress Gallagher Beach as the location so that Canadians -- the sport is popular north of the border -- will heighten competition and excitement for the soon-to-be Olympic event.

"Dragon boat racing has a huge following, so we jumped on the chance to host a binational competition in Buffalo, especially as our community celebrates the War of 1812 bicentennial," said Laurie Irish Jones, event chairwoman and board member of Hope Chest. "We've had a great response, but we have room for more teams."

The races take place with two to six teams competing at once, and two finalists competing for top honors. Registration begins at 8 a.m., followed by the Blessing of the Boats at 8:30 a.m. Morning races take place from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The Awakening of the Dragon Ceremony will take place at noon, followed by a breast cancer flower ceremony at 12:15 p.m.

Afternoon races take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Rep. Brian Higgins will present the winning trophy.

Registered teams already include the Buffalo Fire Department, L & M Financial, Wegmans and the Buffalo Police Department.

The event is free and open to the public. There is a $1,200 fee to register a corporate team and an $850 fee to register a community team. All boats are provided. For more information or to register a team, visit www.hopechestbuffalo.org or call 716-759-1176.